How To Write Sophisticated Prose

A.P./C.P. English 4
Hints on How to Write Sophisticated Prose
English sentences can be classified four ways:
Simple sentence: A sentence with one independent clause and no dependent clauses
Mr. Collins is an obsequious ass.
Wicked Wickham attempts to ruin many young girls’ reputations.
Compound sentence: A sentence with multiple independent clauses but no
dependent clauses
I spent my weekend doing free reading, and it was a welcome relief from working
on scholarship paperwork.
This summer will be exciting, for I am going backpacking on the John Muir trail
for three weeks.
Complex sentence: A sentence with one independent clause and at least one
dependent clause
After reading Pride and Prejudice, I became much more aware of the paucity of
manners in today’s society.
While all of his paintings are fascinating, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is his
most profound statement on the modern condition.
Complex-Compound sentence: A sentence with multiple independent clauses and at
least one dependent clause
 Pride and Prejudice is widely regarded as Jane Austen’s best novel, and because
it is gently satiric, mocking many aspects of her society, Austen is regarded as a
Horatian satirist.
 Lady Catherine’s character is a caricature of the wealthy and self-centered upper
class, for she believes that her needs and the acuity of her reason eclipse everyone
else’s, particularly that of Elizabeth Bennet, as seen in her confrontation of Lizzy
at the end of the novel.
To add complexity to your writing, you must learn to vary your sentences. Please see the
differences between the following two passages:
Example: Many really good blues guitarists have all had the last name King. They have
been named Freddy King and Albert King and B.B. King. The name King must make a
bluesman a really good bluesman. The bluesmen named King have all been very talented
and good guitar players. The claim that a name can make a guitarist good may not be
that far fetched.
Revision: What makes a good bluesman? Maybe, just maybe, it is all in a stately name.
B.B. king, Freddie King, Albert King—it is no coincidence that they are the royalty of
their genre. When their fingers dance like court jesters, their guitars gleam like scepters,
and their voices bellow like regal trumpets, they seem almost like nobility. Hearing their
music is like walking into the throne room. They really are kings.
Exercise: Read the following paragraph from Richard Wrights’ Black Boy and identify
which pattern each sentence fits; then explain how the variance in sentence structure
makes his writing both more interesting and more powerful.
“That night in my rented room, while letting the hot water run over my can of pork and
beans in the sink, I opened [H.L. Mencken’s Book of Prefaces] and began to read. I was
jarred and shocked by the style, the clear, clean, sweeping sentences. Why did he write
like that? And how did one write like that? I pictured the man as a raging demon,
slashing with his pen, consumed with hate, denouncing everything American, extolling
everything European or German, laughing at the weaknesses of people, mocking God,
authority. What was this? I stood up, trying to realize what reality lay behind the
meaning of the words. Yes, this man was fighting, fighting with words. He was using
words as a weapon, using them as one would use a club. Could words be weapons?
Well, yes, for here they were. Then, maybe, perhaps, I could use them as a weapon? No.
It frightened me. I read on and what amazed me was not what he said, but how on earth
anybody had the courage to say it.”